Since it's the season for baseball playoffs, I'll don my umpire's uniform and note that Alcoa's (NYSE:AA) lead-off at bat in the current earnings season probably qualified as a walk. The company didn't strike out, but neither did it blast one over the Green Monster.

For the quarter, Alcoa's earnings from continuing operations hit $558 million, or $0.64 a share, compared to $540 million, or $0.62 a share, a year ago. For those of you keeping score, that's a 3.3% improvement on the "income from continuing operations" line. Further, third-quarter revenue slipped to $7.4 million from last year's $7.6 million.

CEO Alain Belda blamed his company's less-than-inspiring performance on "macroeconomic drivers," including the weakening U.S. dollar, higher petroleum costs, and North American market softness. But he also noted that, "Despite these challenges, we have established all-time records for revenue, net income, earnings per share and cash from operations in the first nine months of the year."

At the same time, Alcoa's board has decided to ante up and hike the company's buyback program from roughly 10% of its outstanding shares to 25%. Some of the board's thinking there might be defensive, since the metals and mining sector has included a host of acquisitions or rumored acquisitions during just the past year.

In fact, while it wasn't mentioned in its earnings release, Alcoa was thwarted during the quarter in its effort to acquire its Canadian-based rival Alcan (NYSE:AL). In July, however, the target company announced that it had become betrothed to London-based mining giant Rio Tinto (NYSE:RTP), which had arrived with a cash offer that dwarfed Alcoa's cash and stock bid. And once that series of events had been concluded, speculation percolated that Alcoa itself might be in the sights of Australia's mining, metals, and energy behemoth BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP).

Despite the less-than-thrilling results, I'm willing to cut the company some slack. After all, it's the latest in a line of big U.S.-based corporations that have been affected of late by softness in North America and higher fuel costs. And with its key international presence in a vital resource, its board's muscular buyback intentions and the consolidation activity in its sector, I might be inclined to nibble at a position on any sort of a pullback.

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